New push in pipeline for acceptance of GMO seeds

02Nov 2018
The Guardian
New push in pipeline for acceptance of GMO seeds

THE Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) has joined farmers across the country in pushing for changes to existing agricultural laws to allow the use of genetically modified organism (GMO) seed varieties because they are drought-resistant and can’t be easily destroyed by pests .

This follows successful trials conducted at the TARI maize illustration farm in Makutupora, Dodoma region. Farmers from across the country are reported to have last week visited TARI’s farm in the company of new TARI board members, and come away satisfied with the trial results.


“We are satisfied that GMO seeds can give us good maize yields if the government allows its use and production locally,” said TARI board chairman Dr Yohana Budeba, adding: “Farmers stand to reap more from their sweat”.


The farmers are also said to have concurred that the use of GMO seeds will ensure bumper harvests while also boosting their own incomes.   


The state-run TARI is mandated to supervise all agricultural research activities in the country. Its board is made up of agricultural experts from various institutions, as well as small-holder farmers.


Dr Budeba asserted that the institute has no more doubts about the GMO seeds, especially for maize crops, after witnessing how well they can grow even in semi-arid climate areas like Dodoma.


He noted further that GMO seed varieties can’t be easily destroyed by pests such as stalk borers and armyworms.


According to the TARI board chair, farmers in the country have in recent years had to bear with big losses due to the crop destructions caused by such pests. Both armyworms and stalk borers are known to attack plants at all stages of growth.


Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) director general Dr Amos Nungu said the government has for the first time allowed researchers to conduct trials and laboratory tests for GMO seeds in the country.


He said the lab tests were done at the Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute (MARI) in Dar es Salaam, while field trials were conducted at the TARI farm in Makutupora.


“The trials will be completed in a month... we need enough data and proof to be able to convince the government to change its agricultural policy and allow the use of GMO seeds,” said Dr Nungu, stressing that without such evidence it will be difficult to get policymakers to endorse its use in the country.


According to TARI director general Dr Geoffrey Mkamilo, GMO seeds are a solution to the long-standing problems of pest invasions in farms across Tanzania.


Dr Mkamilo said TARI has been tasked to ensure that farmers get quality seeds that will enable them to harvest enough produce for the anticipated agricultural processing factories under the fifth phase government’s industrialization drive.


“We are determined to ensure that farmers produce more for our industries. Maize is among crops that are expected to be much-used as a raw material,” he said.


Project researcher Ismail Ngolinda explained that GMO seeds have “a number of benefits which includes additional harvests by 35 per cent in semi-arid regions.”


“With the new seeds, Tanzania will see its annual maize harvests increasing to between 15 and 18 tons from the current 8 tons,” said Ngolinda.


A legal officer from the Vice President’s Office (environment Division), Thomas Chali, said while the government has provided an opportunity for the use of biotechnology in agriculture, it has also put in place rules and regulations to ensure proper use of this biotechnology.


He said the government aims at protecting its people against health risks that may occur as a result of poor supervision of biotechnology in the agricultural sector. He said the restrictions in use are also meant to avoid environmental destruction.


The government slashed its annual agriculture budget from 214.81 billion/- in 2017/18 to170.2bn/- in the current 2018/19 fiscal year. Among other things, this year’s budget is meant to strengthen agricultural research, ensure constant procurement and supply of agricultural inputs, and warrant post-harvest control, value addition, and assured markets.


It also aims at empowering crop boards and sponsoring students in various agricultural training institutes for diploma and degree courses.